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(19 Feb. 2003)
More than souls, church leaders are in competition for markets.
By Latuff, 25 April 2003

Is there such thing as a perfect crime? The "bishop" Edir Macedo gives us a classic case study of perfect crime. Through a refined method of religious extortion, the leader of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, amassed, in a very short time, a fortune that was bigger then the fortunes of the Saudi magnates. Counting on the cooperation of his followers, which are members of the most impoverished groups in the Brazilian populations, Edir Macedo, erected churches all over the place. The Brazilian temples are pharaonic in style and grandeur. He also owns radio and television stations, extending his influence to the legislature, where elected members are part of the evangelic lobby. They are involved at municipal and state level, as well.
For some, Edir Macedo is an example to be followed. There are many, out there, that are interested in following his formula for prosperity. One of them is, actually, his brother in law R.R.Soares.

He is a "missionary", a type of dissident, who has fared quiet well at the Igreja Universal, but doesn't have the amount of money nor the clout that Macedo has. Following the same process that Macedo used, Soares founded his own church. It is called Igreja Internacional da Graca de Deus. The "Missionary" who does not yet has his own radio or TV, has been buying spaces in different television channels, including the noble time at Brazilian TV Bandeirantes, where he presents his program "Show da Fe." The name fits like a glove. If television exhibits desperate people as if they are animals in a circus, why not make faith a type of attractive spectacle like the Jerry Springer show?

During the programs presented by Soares and his coterie of pastors and lay people, what one see is a series of "miracles" obtained by people that send monthly payments to the church. This can be done by dialing 300, or by making transfers to banks. The caller (also know as associate member) even pays for the telephone call. However Soares is a fair man. He doesn't demand that people give money to the church. According to the "Missionary", Jesus tells the person of faith, how much it should give. Soares suggestions are, minimum of 30 reais per month and if one can afford, more. There are those that offer monthly payments of 50 or 100 reais (Brazilian currency, which is about 1 dollar equals 2,50 reais).

During the religious services, the "Missionary", decide to cure the people present, in a flash of a moment's notice. From serious illness till stomach burn, the witnesses declare how Soares healing prayers, in the name of Jesus, cured them. Obviously we cannot count on the faithful testimonies. Because there is no way to prove that they came in sick and left healed. However faith is the name of the game, I am not the appropriated person to instigate doubt. If the caller or church member says that he is cured, in that moment, probably he is being cured. However the blessing is not always instantaneous. In the show, "Talk with the Minister", presented through UHF, by RIT (Rede Internacional de Televisao), owned by Soares, a pastor received a phone call from a spectator, who hoped to get cured from a certain pain. The pastor closes his eyes and start praying. After the prayer he asks if the pain is gone. The faithful respond: No. The pastor close his eyes again making a grim face and he prays again. Nothing happens. The pain continues. The pastor finishes with that faithful and request that the person in question continues to pray farther on his own.

There are testimonies of people that contribute monthly, because it was Jesus' work, which enabled a husband's lover to get sick and move to another city. Or there is the story of another associate member, who declares proudly that she was able to buy 3 refrigerators, after her membership started. The Missionary smiles, thanks them and ask in a bombastic voice: "applauses for Jesus!"

But behind all this spectacle of charlatanism, there is the constant propagation of nazi style theories. One of the examples is the last year-televised sermon against homosexuality. He used a metaphor to explain to millions of viewers, why the relationship between same sex partners is abominable. He asked people to imagine the following: "There are cows and bulls. If the bulls don't cover the cows, what are they good for? Nothing! Therefore they must be slaughtered.
When there are prayers, pastors from the Igreja da Graca, command that negativity and all sicknesses leave the body of the faithful (homosexuality is one of the diseases mentioned) and homosexuality is also related to evil, according to him and his brand of evangelization. In dealing with the crusade for the hearts, minds and pockets, of some of the poorest people in the world, the devil has being a constant companion of the pastors and missionaries. Without the devil, there would not be any reason for the Pastors existences. Practically everything is attributed to demoniac forces, even a simple headache. The Afro-Brazilian cults are all work of Satan, according to the Igreja da Graca. Under this principle, there is a hateful campaign being waged against the adepts of Umbanda, Candomble and Kardecism. If you don’t pray by the bible or by the Pentecostal book of prayers, it is because you are Satan’s influence. The church also uses George W. Bush logic: "If you are not with us you are with the devil."

To support this fundamentalist indoctrination, the church has a publishing and audiovisual industry, R.R. Soares publishes, books, magazines, videos, CDs, with evangelic proselytizing and music. The so-called gospel music comes in a variety of rhythms, that extend from heavy-metal, to forro (typical Brazilian folk music), absorbing artists that are disparaged by the dominant media, while they repeat the same theme: Viva Christ. It doesn’t matter which singer or which song, all say Haleluya Jesus is my Savior, type of stuff. You buy 200 evangelic CDs from a diverse group of artists with different styles and you will hear the same dour cantillation, Jesus this, Jesus that, Jesus the other. Jesus is the oldest propaganda-boy.

These stories reveal more than just caricature or stereotyping, even though it is nothing new. It shows a great number of the population, poor and agonizing between the economic or moral debacle of the society struggling to fill in the vacuum created by the rich part of the civil society. Then come these messianic fraudulent con artists, with promises of a new world for 30 reais a month. These missionaries disseminate, discrimination, intolerance like the white Europeans did with the small pox and syphilis among the indigenous people. These con artists use the media to forcibly evangelize all that have no access to proteins, education, health care and cable TV.

R.R. Soares and Edir Macedo are in competition with each other. They are competing for the same territory of the poor masses’ minds. They are faith Mafiosos. They are proof that with a good economic plan and a Bible in hand; anyone can make him/herself recognized by the society. Some Bible knowledge and a keen understand of human frailties and fears, will get your pockets and bank account brimming with money.

Special thanks to Regina for translation from original in Portuguese.

( Para os leitores brasileiros: estou publicando a versão em inglês do artigo "Corações, mentes e bolsos" para atender aos leitores estrangeiros. O texto em português já foi publicado aqui, mas caso alguém não tenha lido, pode acessar a página http://www.novae.inf.br/latuff/picaretas_da_fe.htm. Obrigado pela tradução, Regina!)